Day 8 – 1741 words today and a total of 12 682 words! Not quite as much as I wanted to do, but just over what I needed to.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Leddy exclaimed, after catching his breath.

Stikky nodded, and they set off towards the mountainside.

About halfway, just as they were passing through a group of pear trees, Steik stepped between Stif and Stib to talk to Stikky.

“That sure is a lot of stairs…” he said uneasily. “Do we have to climb them all?”

Stikky and Leddy looked at each other. “Are you saying you don’t like climbing stairs?” Leddy asked eventually.

“Not just stairs…” Steik replied, looking upwards at the thousands of stairs stretching up towards the castle. “Heights, too!”

“Since when?” Stif and Stib asked, interrupting from behind.

“Yeah…” Stikky added. “I thought you were fine climbing Mount Stick, weren’t you?”

Steik nodded, folding his arms across his chest. “Yeah, but that was on an easy slope! Here, we’re climbing on a single set of stairs, and one slip could mean your death!”

Leddy threw a comforting hand around Steik’s shoulders. “Don’t worry!” he replied in a sympathetic voice. “You’ll be fine! And remember: if you slip, we’ll catch you!”

Stikky was the first to reach the stairs, and thus the first to examine them. They were carved out of the rock, some jagged, while others smooth. Stikky guessed they had all been carved perfectly, but over the years, they had fallen into disrepair.

Looking upwards, he could see they stretched onwards for a considerable time, then stopped and sloped the other way, continuing on, he supposed, until they reached the plateau where the castle was built.

Turning around as the others gathered around them, he muttered, “Well, let’s get this over with!” Then he began to climb the perilous set of stairs that stretched up for what seemed an eternity.

 

Several hours later, they reached the top. The climb had been perilous and tiring, and more than once someone had slipped and would’ve fallen if they had not been caught.

As Stikky clambered up the last few steps, he groaned, staggering forward further onto the plateau.

“Well, we made it!” he exclaimed, sinking onto his knees. “And if we’re going to be climbing up and down the mountain, we need to find another way to do it!”

The others—all those who had enough breath, anyway—answered him with grunts and groans.

As Steik sat down beside him, white-faced, Stikky grinned as his energy began to return. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” He asked, patting his friend on the back.

“It sure was!” Leddy exclaimed, plonking himself down beside the two wearily and wiping the sweat from his face with his hand. “Even I’m not afraid of heights,” he continued. “And yet, that was a nightmare!”

The twins hurried up the last of the stairs and collapsed beside them. “I think,” Stif panted. “I think we need to find a better way to get up here!”

His brother nodded. “I’d rather not have to climb all the way down them and then back up just to get some water and fruit, thankyou!”

Stikky nodded. “Well, I’m ready to start exploring this castle now; anyone want to come with me?”

Leddy and the twins got up immediately, a few other stickmen who had heard Stikky’s question following their example. Steik, however, stayed seated.

“You guys go on ahead,” he panted, his face still slightly pale. “I’ll stay behind for now and catch up when I can.”

Shrugging, Stikky and Leddy turned around and walked off in the direction of the castle, leading the group behind them.

As they crossed the plateau drew nearer, they got their first chance to examine the castle properly.

It could only really be called half a castle, due to the fact that one of its sides was the cliffside of the mountain as it stretched up towards its peak. It had thick, strong walls and two massive towers at the corners, both stretching upwards to a great height.

Looking around them with interest, the stickmen started trudging around the perimeter of the castle until they came to the entrance, which they found was barred by a thick, iron portcullis.

Kicking the metal gate, Stikky sighed in frustration. “Well,” he muttered. “It’s obvious we’re not getting in here!”

“How about we go all the way around?” Suggested Leddy, his natural optimism kicking in. “I’m sure there’ll be a way we can get in—even if it’s only a couple of us, and then we’ll go and find a way to open that gate so the rest of us can enter!”

Heads began to nod all round as everyone thought over the idea.

“Let’s get going then!” someone called, and they set off once more.

As they passed alongside the wall, Stikky examined the enormous bricks that made up the castle, both chipped and worn after many years of use. The dark-red mortar that had been used to join the bricks together looked like it was a mixture between clay and mud.

As they rounded the corner, Leddy—who’d run on ahead—gave a shout.

“Hey guys!” he called. “Come check this out! It’s almost exactly what we were looking for!”

Hurrying towards him, Stikky instantly noticed an enormous hole in the wall on that side, as if some enormous object had collided with the side of the castle and smashed part of it in.

As they reached Leddy, they saw he was already trying to get a grip on the side of the wall and climb up through the hole, but he soon gave up.

“It’s no good…” he panted downheartedly after another try. “These walls are to hard to climb.”

Stikky beckoned to the twins. “Can you guys give us a boost up?” he asked them, receiving a quick nod as Stif and Stib stepped forward.

Cupping their hands together, the twins allowed first Leddy and then Stikky to step on their hands, boosting them up, until they could get a grip on the sides of the hole and pull themselves up into it.

Crouching to avoid knocking his head against the top of the hole, Stikky turned back to look down at the others. “Go back around to the gate,” he instructed. “We’ll have the gate opened as soon as we can figure out how to.”

Not waiting for the reply, he gave Leddy a quick nod, and the two made their way through the hole, jumping carefully down into the inside of the castle grounds.

Not bothering to look around, the two made their way across the stone floor of the castle towards the front gate.

Hurrying towards a narrow archway in the wall beside the gate, Stikky and Leddy clambered up the staircase inside, finding themselves in a dark corridor as they reached the top.

Looking around, Stikky noted the arrow slits that lined the edge of the wall, each letting a small slice of light into the dark room.

In the middle of the corridor was a large winch with handles on either side, a long length of rusty chain wrapped around it. Guessing instantly that it operated the portcullis, the two hurried over to it and began to rotate the shafts.

The portcullis was exceedingly heavy, and the handles were hard to turn, but after a few seconds they got it moving at a steady pace, satisfied with a slow, creaking groan from the gate as it began to lift.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, there was a thunk, and the handled would not turn anymore.

Hurrying back down the stair and out through the archway, they were greeted by a chorus of cheers as the other stickmen flooded in.

Patting the two on the back, the others crowded around them, and for the first time, they had a proper look around the castle grounds.

The floor was made of some ancient stone tiling, great cracks running in all directions. Moss and ivy had taken over everything, rusty armour and broken weapons lay strewn haphazardly around the area,

“How did that get there?” Leddy asked, pointing to an enormous rock lying half-embedded in the ground, a pile of rubble and bricks surrounding it.

Looking back and forth between the boulder and the hole in the wall, Stikky nodded to himself as realisation dawned. It made sense, at least somewhat.

“I think this castle was attacked.” he said slowly.

Everyone looked at him. “How do you make that out?” Stib asked, folding his arms across his chest in suspicion.

“Think about it.” Stikky explained. “First of all, the gate was shut; I expect that wouldn’t have normally been down, whoever lived here would’ve wanted to be able to roam freely. Next, there’s all this armour and weapons everywhere, it looks like the people here were preparing for battle or had to leave this stuff here in a hurry—as in, they ran away or were chased, or even killed. And finally, that rock,” he pointed to the roughly-shaped boulder as he spoke. “That couldn’t have just got here all on its own, and you can see its directly in line with the hole in the wall. I think that rock was launched by a catapult, or something like that.”

Everyone nodded. Stikky’s explanation made sense, at least, if you wanted it to. And if you didn’t think about it long enough.

Leddy spoke turned around and spoke to another stickman quickly, who spun around and hurried out of the gate.

“I just thought the others would be wondering where we’ve got to by now,” he explained, answering the questioning looks of the others. “He’s going to go bring them here.”

Turning, they looked around at the rest of the castle, noticing for the first time a set of three archways carved out of the rock.

“What’re they?” Stif asked, scratching his head.

“I expect that’s where everything else is located,” his brother explained. “Ya know, like kitchens, beds, probably a secret tunnel down to the base of the mountain, and a lot of other stuff!”

Peering into one of the dark, ominous passages, Stikky shuddered.

It was not the darkness that made him shiver, although that certainly didn’t help. No, it was something else. Something he couldn’t explain, but felt inside him.

Suddenly he stepped out of the passage as a wave of fear washed over him.

A ghostly breath of wind blew out of the tunnel, making everyone’s spines shiver. Had that just been the wind, Stikky wondered. Or was it something else? Something mysterious… something darker…